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Journal Entry:

Thursday, March 03, 2005 12:53:41

Chile 2005: 4

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

The English delegation reported that the recommended restaurant produced a great meal, with excellent service and attention from the owner, while Marilynn and I had a meal in the hotel that was ghastly and greasy. Marilynn fortunately didn't each much, so was not badly affected, but mine came back up in the wee hours of the morning.

Our departure from the hotel was a true muddle. Our driver from yesterday was parked outside to pick up another group, and he said a similar van would be along for us. About 10 minutes later one appeared, so our baggage was loaded into it and in we climbed. We were then told it was not the right van, so out we went and the baggage was unloaded. A bus across the street was indicated, so I went and inquired, but it wasn't the right bus either. Finally, about 20 minutes late, another large bus pulled in. This time we appeared on the driver's list so climbed aboard.

Once settled, they did the tour of the hotels, forcing us to give up two seats each, as the bus was packed. Between the guide's poor English and a speaker system that was fuzzy to the point being indecipherable, the explanations were a waste of time. Reading was also out, as the reading lights didn't work.

We set off on the 67 km trip along the shores of Lake Llanquihue which our rooms overlooked last night. I'm told this is Chile's second largest lake and is up to 345 meters deep. Once on the bus the mystery of the extra voucher was solved - it is a summary voucher with machine readable codes for the ferries. We were told we would have 4 hours on buses and 3 hours on boats before we reach Bariloche, but it turned out to be much longer. On the way we passed through Chile's oldest national park, 245,000 hectares that were set aside in 1926.

The bus stopped at the Petrohue River for those who wanted to visit the waterfalls in the national park. The others in our group chose to stay on the bus to the ferry landing where it would unload luggage, but I visited the park and falls. They were interesting, as there were various falls where the river cut through a lava field, but their claim that the falls are world class is a bit of a stretch.

The short trip to the boat was more comfortable, as I had double seats. The catamaran ferry "Lagos Andinos" contrasted greatly with the luxurious one we had become accustomed to on the coast - it had rows of fairly normal low back seats on two levels. There was a snack bar and a small gift shop on board. The ferry was about ¾ full for the two hour cruise along beautiful Lake Todos los Santos, which snakes along between high, forested mountains. Now and then there were beautiful homes nestled into the forest at the lake's edge, their only access by water.

The cruise ended at Peulla, a community which was established in 1870, where there is a resort hotel and a population of 150 people. As we had an hour and a half here we headed for the pub in the hotel for some lunch. My tippling partner, Roger, is suffering from a cold he picked up a couple of days ago, so I've been holding up the side for us both in beer consumption. After lunch it started to rain as we boarded another bus, which would take 2 hours to cover the 27 km to Puerto Frio and our next ferry. We stopped at the Chilean border check point, located in a normal looking house just a few meters from the hotel. The guide looked after the formalities while we waited on the bus.

The road was a rough single lane gravel track. To avoid collisions local vehicles have two way radios to let others know their position. One pulls off where there is a wide enough space to wait for the other to go by.

We followed a river through a valley with farms at first. Surprisingly, even though we are in the heart of the Andes, the altitude is only 280 meters above sea level. We then started to climb steeply; rapidly reaching 978 meters through a series of switchbacks. At the summit a log archway over the road indicates the border. Large signs on each side welcome travellers into the Argentinean or Chilean national parks of "Vicente Perez Rosales" in Chile and "Nahuel Huapi" in Argentina.

At Puerto Frio we had to go through immigration one by one to enter Argentina. As there were three bus loads of people they were done in order of buses, and lists of people within the buses. There was a small outlet selling snacks and drinks, so I was able to sample my first Argentinean beer of the trip.

Boarding our next ferry, the "Dalca", for the half hour trip down Lake Frio was a low point! It was a very utilitarian vessel with metal seats, little paint and no facilities on board. The lake was pretty, with high cliffs on each side, and a guide gave a running commentary which helped keep our minds off the hard seats. At Puerto Alegre we were transported by bus on a rough 10 minute ride down the river to the next port, Puerto Brest. Here we were dropped at a cafeteria where Marilynn and I had hot dogs.

A short walk took us to the Brest Hotel, established in 1914. It is a surprisingly nice looking hotel considering how remote its location is. We waited out of the rain on the hotel porch until the last of our ferry, "El Condor", arrived. It was a definite step up, with almost 300 seats, bar, snacks and video entertainment. It took an hour to travel down the southern arm of huge Lake Nahuel Huapi, the lake on which Bariloche is located.

At Puerto Pañuelos the final bus of the day was waiting to take us to the Hotel Nevada in Bariloche. It seemed it would never complete the 26 km ride from the ferry dock. It slowed to a walk on uphill grades, and we must have stopped at a dozen of the vast number of hotels and accommodation places on route. We then criss crossed the city dropping more people off until finally we arrived at the Hotel Nevada - the destination of most people on the bus.

We got the hotel forms filled out with little problem, and then checked on assigned beds, thus began another battle of the beds. All of us were booked into rooms with regular double beds. An Isreali ahead of me was battling for rooms with two beds for the group

of women he was escorting - they had been assigned one double bed for each two people, and seeming to get nowhere as the clerk insisted there were no large beds, or rooms with more than one bed available.

I got the same story when it was may turn, so I asked for our voucher back and the use of a phone book so I could move our group to another hotel. This sent him back to his computer, and it was a very unhappy and grumpy desk clerk that finally handed us our keys for rooms with either two or three beds in them and a "welcome drink" coupon. Although the rooms were tiny, with really small bathrooms, they did have more than one bed.

All but Roger, who headed for bed, met back in the bar for drinks that we were very ready for, then a bite to eat for dinner. The restaurant food was mediocre, as was the service. The long day of changing transport and walking between connections had taken a toll on us all.

Thursday, March 3, 2005

Today's start was slow and easy. We made it to the restaurant just before breakfast finished at 10:30 AM, and then went for a walk around town. Roger wisely opted for a day in bed, but Marilynn was feeling well enough to go shopping. Simon and I wandered off on our own, eventually finding a nice little pub where we enjoyed some Cristal beer which comes in litre bottles.

Our thirst quenched temporarily, we headed for the main square which is flanked by police headquarters, city hall, the tourism offices and three huge arches leading to the main street. All buildings were built of log and stone in the tradition of the area. When the ladies appeared we headed back to our pub for a delicious, and very inexpensive, lunch. With the Argentinean Peso at 3 for $US 1.00 things are a bargain. My lunch of three well stuffed empanadas of different types and a litre of beer cost $1.65.

Pizza is very popular here. Simon and Brenda each ordered a small one that was so big neither could finish it. One would be ideal for two people to nibble on while sharing a bottle of good Argentine wine and watching the view out the window. Wine on the menu was between $3 and $6 per bottle.

On the way back to the hotel we made reservations for tonight at the famous "Alfredo's Restaurant", which was packed even though it was 15 minutes before closing. Eating is late in Argentina. Nothing opens until 8 PM, and most people will eat well after 10 PM.

Bariloche is a pretty city of 120,000 people. There is a lot of Austrian/Swiss style architecture mixed with traditional log and stone buildings. Marilynn says the prices in the stores were not less than in Chile, possibly because it is a tourist city, but food and drinks are very inexpensive for those with foreign currency. Cleanliness in rest rooms has dropped away down in comparison with Chile, and the people of this area are less friendly, with waiters and other service staff tending to be very abrupt.

Marilynn is now off shopping with Brenda, Sally is keeping Roger company, and I'm catching up on various things, so I'll get this away. Tomorrow will be an easy start. We'll leave the hotel at 11:30 AM to catch the noon public bus back to Puerto Varas in Chile. Looking at the map it will be a long day, as there are no direct routes due to the Andes Mountains, but at least we will be with the same bus.